The movie industry is dying.
Due to widespread COVID-19 restrictions, movie theaters around the world have been forced to close their doors for almost a year.
As a result, in 2020, U.S. movie theaters totalled more than $9 billion less at the box office than they did in 2019. Not only that, but back in March 2020, analysts predicted that by the time coronavirus regulations were gone, the global box office could take a hit of more than $5 billion. As the restrictions stretch on, these predictions prove to be more than a little conservative, to say the least.
This huge loss, however, is not just related to COVID-19. Will movie theaters make a comeback when the regulations are finally over? Yes, somewhat, but COVID-19 restrictions simply accelerated a decline that had already begun.
From 2002 to 2019 the U.S. saw a drop of nearly 350 million movie tickets sold nationwide, including a fall of 83 million from 2018 to 2019.
Clearly, the movie theater industry had been trending in the wrong direction for a long time before the blow from COVID-19.
An important contribution to the movie industry’s decline is Americans’ expanding access to technology. The global movie industry’s revenue losses from digital piracy are between $40 and $97.1 billion per year. Even back in 2018, the U.S. had an astounding 17.38 billion visits to illegal pirating sites. With most of life going virtual in 2020, the year could have only seen a massive increase in those visits, and thus a major hit to much of theaters’ target demographic.
As James Roberts, a reporter for Glide Magazine, points out, “over the last few decades, home video technology has led to previously unprecedented film presentation accessible from the comfort of one’s home.”
For decades, the American public has taken for granted a key player for movie theater profits: theaters cornered the market on major movie releases. Dozens of times a year, people flocked in hundreds of thousands to see new movies for the first time. With no other way to view the movie for another six months or so, theaters possessed a monopoly on the experience, the profits, and the actual product.
This, however, may be changing. With COVID-19 keeping many of the nation’s theaters closed, production companies have started directly releasing their movies to online streaming companies. If this proves to be financially beneficial for the production companies, it will spell doom for movie theaters across the nation.
Movie releases like “Trolls World Tour” indicate that movies are indeed heading in this direction. Universal Studios was forced to release the movie as a digital rental, and made almost $100 million in its first 20 days alone.
The final nail in the movie theater’s coffin will likely be hammered home by Disney.
Back in November 2019, Disney released Disney Plus, its very own streaming service. The subscription-based service has had an incredible start, gaining more than 73 million global subscribers in just its first year.
Disney Plus’ success opens a new door for the entertainment juggernaut, allowing it to release movies like “Mulan” and “Hamilton” as digital rentals accessible to their subscribers.
Disney movies made up five of the top ten highest-grossing movies in 2018, and seven of them in 2019. With Disney movies off the market, and other production companies likely to follow, movie theaters will quickly be left in the dust.
Although there’s nothing like the movie theater experience of hot popcorn, cushy seats, huge screens, and surround sound, theaters are losing the novelty of being the first place you can see a new movie. Whether it’s to online rentals or to increasingly popular pirating sites, movie theaters are on the way out.
Christian Peck-Dimit is a sophomore studying English